Friday, October 12, 2007

Ukrainian Food Kitchen: Salvation for the Soul



Two weeks ago the New York Times profiled the women of St.George's Catholic Church in the East Village in a piece titled "Dumplings for the Lord".

For the last few decades a small army ( 8 women or so) have been turning up each Friday morning to make traditional Ukrainian food. They sell these dishes to the locals and all profits are donated to the church. Last year they donated about $80,000 to the church through their efforts.

All of the women who give their time and cooking expertise to the mission are Ukrainian immigrants themselves. St.George's church helped many of these women and their families assimilate into American culture. The church provided elementary/middle school services on top of its stated role as religious practitioner.

Last Friday, I decided to find out for myself: Are Ukrainian dumplings fit for the Soul?

None of my friends were up to the task. "I am busy" or "I already ate" were most of the lame responses I was given (some didn't even respond- you know who you are!).

First I had to find this joint.

According to the Times article, the kitchen was situated "next to McSorley’s Old Ale House". I found this to be almost true.

It took walking around the blocks of Seventh and Sixth Streets in between Second and Third Avenues before I found this hole in the wall.

The signage sucked and was not even at street level (this photo was taken looking down the stairs near the entrance). The building was not next to McSorley's, but rather located some four buildings over (closer to Second Avenue).
Having haphazardly ordered six potato pierogies (varenyky) with smetana (sour cream) for $3.50. I began my feast.

They actually tasted quite good. Nothing fancy or anything, but warm and filling. Just the thing to get over a hangover.

More interesting to me were the multitudes of people who trickled into this religious kitchen
space. There was some dude with a mohawk and one six inch earring. Two bike messengers dropped in, their arms covered in tats. An elderly couple wobbled through, cains in hand, reporting that this indeed was the place they had read about in the NY Times article. Quietly, I sat their munching away. I too came because of the article.

One must not and cannot escape the fact that only in New York would something like this melting pot of seemingly disparate souls come together for lunch.

Its secret places like this that make New York great. Its the locals, the folklore and the immigrants that shape this city. Its the pierogies, the old ladies and the anonymity that make St. George's kitchen all-to-endearing.

I will come back again. But, perhaps I will try the borscht this next time around.

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